Question: My spouse had an affair with someone at work. What is the possibility of saving our marriage under these circumstances? Can my spouse remain working with this person or should I insist that my spouse quit and find a new job?
Answer: It is very important to do a lot of careful thinking for yourself in situations like this. The answers are not easy or straightforward, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
While I understand your desire to get absolute clarity about "doing the right thing" or determining what you "should do"... you're asking for a degree of specificity as to what to do that I can not give you. I can only offer some overall perspective. You must then evaluate the situation and make the decision that is best for you.
Your thinking is correct when it comes to dealing with workplace affairs (as to what is usually necessary for rebuilding the marriage).
The 3 key factors in rebuilding are:
--Severing all contact with the third party
--Getting answers to your questions
--Talking through the whole thing
It's up to each individual to decide whether they are willing to be flexible. (Sometimes it's not possible to get everything at once, but it's your prerogative to decide if that's your posture.) Basically, YOU are the only one who can decide whether it's essential that you get everything - and on what timetable.
Also, it's important to recognize that "getting what you want" MAY involve doing it in ways you don't "prefer." For instance, IF he has any face-to-face contact with the other woman, it's probably smart for you to be there too. But, again, any/all decisions are up to you. (Frankly, none of the alternatives to handling the other woman are desirable.)
It’s a very good idea to seek the support of a coach or therapist. You need to have ongoing, face-to-face support from someone who really understands affairs.
Since you are the one who must live with the consequences of your decisions, you are the only one who should make them. There is no absolute way everyone must handle it.
Two people might face the exact circumstances and each might make different decisions, and it might be best for each of them. That's because decisions can only be made based on each individual's priorities, needs, values, desires, etc.
While I recognize there are cultural factors in attitudes/expectations, my contact with people from around the world indicates that the basics are pretty universal (re: wanting/needing honesty, respect, and answers as to what happened.)
When dealing with workplace affairs and healing a marriage after an extra marital affair, the marriage needs to be “covered” or protected in much the same way that we put a cast on a broken arm to ensure the broken place is not reinjured, or we place a bandage over a serious wound to protect it from infection and being reopened.
A marriage with a severe wound requires covering so the wound can heal properly. Continued contact with the 3rd party will reopen the wound for both parties. The betrayed spouse will not be able to trust the unfaithful spouse, and the unfaithful spouse will often be tempted to reach out to the affair partner for comfort, since there is pain in the marriage. Contact with the affair partner will likely confuse the unfaithful spouse about the genuine love they feel towards their spouse, and will slow or reverse any forward progress being made in the marriage.
Below is an article by Peggy Vaughan, author of “The Monogamy Myth” and host of www.dearpeggy.com, which accurately reflects my own thoughts of dealing with workplace affairs. It is reprinted here with permission.
Rebuilding the Marriage and Dealing With Workplace Affairs
by Peggy Vaughan
One of the key factors in rebuilding the marriage is "severing contact with the third party." Continued contact creates an environment of anxiety and uncertainty that interferes with healing just as continuing to scratch off a scab interferes with the healing of a physical wound. So whether or not there is any future involvement, the past involvement continues to be a problem for the spouse.
A common reason cited for the inability to sever contact after a work-related affair is "financial complications" involved in changing jobs. Of course, work is important in our lives—both as a source of pride and self-esteem as well as a source of financial security. But the issue is far more significant than simply making a practical decision to stay in the job; it sends a signal that the job is a higher priority than the spouse or the relationship. Accepting responsibility for making the decision to sever contact with the third party (even if it means leaving the job or moving) is a critical step toward addressing the damage to the relationship.
There is often an attitude (related to changing jobs) that "nothing can be done; that there is NO choice to be made." However, everything (except perhaps death and taxes) involves choice. We may not like the consequences of the choices, but we have them nevertheless. So it's a matter of deciding which consequences you are willing to live with.
When there is a choice to place the well-being of spouse/family/personal life over professional or financial well-being—the likely results are immediate (perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent) loss of income/assets/business potential.
When there is a choice to place professional or financial well-being over the well-being of spouse/family/personal life—the likely results are unending pain to the spouse on two fronts: due to the meaning (in terms of what is most valued) behind the choice itself—and due to the fact that as a result of this choice, they are likely to suffer anxiety/uncertainty/suspicion/pain on an ongoing basis.
It all comes down to choice. I've known instances where people made extraordinary choices—changing careers, even moving to another city, etc. The main task for everyone is to be clear about their priorities—and to recognize that the choices we make reflect our priorities in life."
A spouse's concerns about ongoing contact are reasonable, based on the following quote from psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Haltzman:
"Seventy-three percent of unfaithful men meet their mistresses at work. Most people don't choose to have an affair; some may even be morally opposed to affairs. Frequently it starts with a conversation. Then, it moves to a conversation about intimate issues and experiences in each person's own relationship. The distance between meeting someone and a first kiss is much longer than the distance between a first kiss and ending up in bed. It's a slippery slope, and you make choices all along the way."
Of course, it's not just men who have workplace affairs. Women have them too. Finally, this should NOT be construed as saying work-related affairs are inevitable. Quite the contrary. In fact, awareness of the potential can help prevent unintended liaisons from developing in the first place. And couples who regularly communicate in an open and honest way about any temptations/concerns, etc., can avoid falling prey to this problem.
End of quote from Peggy Vaughan
A final note about moving in order to “cover” the marriage so it can be healed! In addition to concerns about financial stability there can be concerns re: uprooting the children. Be assured the most important thing for children are that mom and dad stay married to each other. A move is far less unsettling for a child than the divorce of their parents.
©Copyright 2010 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.
For information about confidential coaching with Brian or Anne click here.
If you would like to share a success story, helpful insight or comment on this article we welcome your remarks. Email your questions or comments to Brian and/or Anne firstname.lastname@example.org